Postquam primus homo paradisi liquerat hortos,
et miseras terras exul adibat inops,
exilioque gravi poenas cum prole luebat,
perfidiae quoniam furta maligna gerit.
per varios casus mortalis vita cucurrit,
diversosque dies omnis habebat homo.
fatali cursu miscentur tristia laetis;
nulli firma fuit regula laetitiae.
nemo dies cunctos felices semper habebat,
nemo sibi semper gaudia certa tenet.
nil manet aeternum celso sub cardine caeli,
omnia vertuntur temporibus variis.
una dies ridet, casus cras altera planget,
nil fixum faciet tessera laeta tibi.
prospera conturbat sors tristibus impia semper,
alternis vicibus ut redit unda maris.
nunc micat alma dies, veniet nox atra tenebris,
ver floret gemmis, hiems ferit hocque decus.
sidereum stellis culmen depingitur almis,
quas nubes rapiunt imbriferae subito.
et sol ipse die media subducitur ardens,
cum tonat undosus auster ab axe poli.
saepius excelsos feriunt et fulgura montes,
summaque silvarum flamma ferire solet:
sic maior magnis subito saepissime rebus
eveniet casu forte ruina malo.
haec exempla dedit periturus et undique mundus,
divitiis florens, qui perit in pelago.
voce prophetarum pariter per quatuor orbis
iam praedicta vides subruta regna modo.
nobilis urbs regni et prima potentia regum
perdidit, o, Babylon Chaldea regna potens.
egregium bello et magnis te, Persa, triumphis
obruit, heu, iaculis femina sola suis.
victorem mundi medio sors, ecce, secundis
rebus Alexandrum India flore tulit.
Roma caput mundi, mundi decus, aurea Roma,
nunc remanet tantum saeva ruina tibi.
gloria Castrensis gladiis aequata remansit,
lutea pars digitum sola videtur iners.
quid te, sancta, canam David urbs inclita regis,
in mundo nullis aequiparanda locis?
in te templa Dei, cultus, laus, gloria, virtus,
in te mansit ovans sancta propago patrum.
dum tua, quis teneat lacrimas, nunc ultima cernit;
gens inimica Deo iam tua tecta tenet.
heu, Iudaea, tuis habitator in urbibus errat
rarus in antiquis, laus tua tota perit.
nobile nam templum, toto et venerabile in orbe,
quod Salomon fecit, Chaldea flamma vorat.
deicit hoc iterum Romana potentia bellis,
in cineres solvens moenia tecta diu.
ecce, relicta domus Siloe per saecla remansit,
in qua sancta Dei arca potentis erat.
sic fugit omne decus, hominis quod dextera fecit,
gloria saeclorum sic velut umbra volat.
ut sitiens liquidas frustra sibi somniat undas,
sic gazas mundi dives habebit inops.
Tempora cur tantum luctu longinqua retexam,
et veterum miseros carmine plango dies,
dum praesens dies patitur peiora per orbem,
et misera mundus nunc ditione dolet?
Asia lata gemit paganis pressa catenis,
quam premit et spoliat gens inimica Deo.
Africa iam servit, magni pars tertia mundi
pro dolor, heu, tota pestiferis dominis!
Hesperiae populus, quondam gens inclita bello,
invisis sceptris servit et ipsa modo.
quidquid habent pulchri domini vel templa decoris
vastavit, rapuit ethnica dextra sibi.
hoc generale malum relevet speciale per orbem:
quod patitur solus quisque, ferat levius.
iam domus alma Dei, princeps qua corpore pausat
Petrus, apostolica primus in arce pater,
perfidiae manibus fertur vastata fuisse,
dum pretiosa domus impia dextra tulit.
planxerat Italia Gothorum tempore tota,
vastavit templa hostis ubique Dei:
et natat effusus sanctorum sanguis in aula,
qua prius almus honor omnipotentis erat.
Hunorum gladios ter ternis senserat annis
Gallia tota suis exspoliata bonis.
ecclesias, urbes, vicos, castella, sacratas
cum populis pariter ignis edax rapuit.
(Alcuin, De rerum humanarum vicissitudine et clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii 1-84)
After the first man had left the gardens of Paradise
and entered the lands of misery, needy and banished,
in burdensome exile he and his children began to pay the penalty
for the wicked act of treacherous theft he had committed.
Human life passes rapidly through many sorts of disasters
and every man has had different kinds of days.
In the course of fate sadness will be mixed with joy;
no one has firm control over delight.
No one has had success every day,
no one always enjoys predictable happiness.
Nothing remains eternal under the tall dome of the sky,
all things change at different times.
One day smiles, the next laments a catastrophe,
no stability is granted by a token of luck.
Unkindly chance always throws sadness and prosperity together,
as the sea waves return with their ebb and flow.
Soft daylight gleams one moment, then comes the darkness of black night;
spring blossoms with buds whose beauty winter destroys.
The heights of heaven are picked out with fine stars
which the rain clouds suddenly snatch from view,
and the burning sun hides too in the middle of the day,
when the south wind thunders with watery torrents from high heaven.
Lightning most often hits the loftiest hills
and flames usually strike the tops of the woods:
in this way greater ruin most often comes suddenly
to great things by chance and by ill fortune.
Everywhere the world, doomed to perish, teaches this lesson,
it flourishes with wealth and is lost in the seas.
Through the four corners of the earth you can now witness
the collapse of kingdoms foretold by the worlds of the prophets.
The noblest city in the realm and chief bulwark of its kings,
mighty Babylon, alas, lost the kingdom of Chaldea.
The Persian who excelled in war and won great triumphs,
was brought down by a solitary woman with her darts.
Envious fate cut off Alexander, conqueror of the world,
in the prime of his life and at the height of his success.
Of Rome, capital and wonder of the world, golden Rome,
only a barbarous ruin now remains.
Its military glory has been levelled by the sword,
and only a lifeless part of its muddy rooftops is visible.
What should I now sing about the holy and excellent city of King David
to which no place in the world can be compared?
In it was God’s church, worship, praise, glory, virtue;
in it the holy children of the fathers lived joyously.
How shall any man restrain his tears when he looks upon its end,
for a people hostile to God now holds sway over its dwellings?
Alas, Judaea, few are the inhabitants who wander
in your ancient cities; all praise of you has died.
The noble temple, revered throughout the world,
which Solomon built, the Chaldean flame devoured,
the power of Rome once again demolished it in battle,
reducing its walls and houses to ashes.
For centuries now has stood derelict the house of Shiloh
in which the holy ark of mighty God was kept.
So it is that all beauty made by the hand of man flees away,
and the glory of the ages flies by like a shadow.
As the thirsty man vainly dreams of flowing waters for himself,
so the pauper hopes to become rich and enjoy the world’s wealth.
Why should I only deal mournfully with distant times
and lament the miserable days of the ancients in my poetry,
when throughout the world the present age endures worse things
and the earth now grieves in doleful subjection?
Broad Asia groans, oppressed by the chains of pagans,
ground down and despoiled by a people hostile to God.
Africa, the third part of the great world, is now enslaved;
she is entirely given up—alas—to baneful masters!
The people of Spain, once a race excellent at warfare,
are now enslaved by the hands of a power they hate.
All the lords’ beautiful possessions, all the finery in the churches,
the hands of pagans have ravaged and seized for themselves.
May this general suffering reduce the grief of individuals in the world:
may each man bear more lightly what he suffers alone.
Now the sweet house of God in which rests the body of Peter,
the father pre-eminent among the ranks of the apostles,
is said to have been devastated by treacherous hands,
when the impious laid their grasp on the precious objects in the church.
The whole of Italy lamented in the time of the Gothic invasions,
when the enemies of God laid waste to the temples everywhere,
and the blood of the saints was shed in waves in the halls
where due respect was once paid to omnipotent God.
For nine years the whole of Gaul suffered at the swords
of the Huns, despoiled of its goods,
while hallowed churches, towns, villages and castles
and the peoples in them were devoured by the ravening fire.
(tr. Peter Godman)